Most Common Instances of Dental Malpractice and How They Occur

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Most Common Instances of Dental Malpractice and How They Occur

Written by Malman Law, reviewed by Steve J. Malman.

Malpractice cases are not limited to medical physicians. Dentists are equally accountable for their treatments, and they are required to provide their patients with the expected standard of care. When a dentist, orthodontist, periodontist, or orthodontic surgeon injures a patient by deviating from that standard, he or she is liable for injuries caused.

It is important that patients understand what constitutes dental malpractice, and what steps they must take to file a claim against a dental professional. Most importantly, anyone who suspects they are the victim of dental malpractice should contact a dental malpractice lawyer from Malman Law for a free case evaluation.

Negligence of a Dental Professional

Anytime a dentist or other dental professional commits an error and causes a catastrophic injury to their patient, they should pay for their wrongful actions.

There are four criteria that need to be present in order to make a medical negligence claim:

  1. Standard of care: the dental professional owed the patient a specific duty of care when treating them
  2. Breach of care: the dental professional deviated from the acceptable standard of care that any other dental professional would have administered under the same set of circumstances
  3. Damages: the dental professional’s behavior resulted in injury to the patient, causing the patient to suffer either emotional, physical, mental, or financial harm
  4. Causation: the patient must show that the dentist’s action or inaction was the direct cause of their injuries

Common ways to deviate from the acceptable standard of care may include: a misdiagnosis or misinterpreting test results, failing to take routine X-rays, prescribing the wrong medications, or making an error during dental surgery.

Each specialty in dentistry carries its own set of risks. Each dental professional has a duty of care to each patient. We will investigate your case and confer with reputable dental professionals to determine if the healthcare provider treated you with an adequate level of care.

Time Frame to File a Dental Malpractice Claim

Medical malpractice claims have to be made within a certain amount of time. This “clock” is known as a statute of limitations. According to Illinois statute 735 ILCS 5/13-212, a claimant (patient filing a claim) only has two years after the date of discovering the injury to file a claim. The law defines the date of discovery as being when the patient had actual or constructive knowledge of the injury. Constructive knowledge implies that a person of reasonable intelligence should have been aware of the injury.

The claimant will not be allowed to file a claim after the two years have passed, even if they have strong evidence that would allow a court to rule in their favor.

An exception to this law is when the patient is under the age of 18. For minor patients, a claim may be filed for eight years following the trauma, but not later than the patient’s 22nd birthday.

Elements of a Dental Malpractice Claim

In order to recover compensation in a dental malpractice claim, there are a few different elements that your attorney will work to demonstrate.

  1. The dentist had a duty of care to their patients, meaning that the dentist had an obligation to provide you with treatment. A duty of care is created once you become a patient of the dentist.
  2. The duty of care was breached. Comparing the dentist’s conduct to what a reasonable and similarly trained professional would have done in these same circumstances, the dentist did not provide a reasonable level of care.
  3. This breach of care was the cause of the harm that you suffered. You were hurt as a result of this beach and the dentists’ failure to provide proper care.
  4. Because of this breach of care, you should be compensated for the damages that you suffered.

Proving dental malpractice

In order to provide dental malpractice, you and your attorney will work to gather evidence, speak with experts in the field, and put together a summary that outlines the injuries suffered and compensation requested for damages.

Types of Compensation in a Dental Malpractice Lawsuit

In the event that you suffer an injury from a dentist who is performing work on your mouth, you could have an expensive recovery. There are several different types of compensation that you might receive if you pursue a dental malpractice case. These often include recovering costs for:

  • Surgery and other medical treatment
  • Visits to the doctor or other dentist
  • Stays in the hospital and additional treatments that are related to your injury
  • Lost wages due to time missed at work
  • Pain and suffering
  • Other expenses that are related to the injury

Your experienced dental malpractice lawyer can give you a detailed summary of the compensation you might expect to receive from your claim.

Steps to File a Dental Malpractice Lawsuit

Many people who are considering a dental malpractice lawsuit after they have been injured might wonder what the process is like. It is advisable to work with a knowledgeable legal team who can help guide you through these steps. The steps for filing a dental malpractice lawsuit often include, but are not limited to:

  1. Collect all of the medical documentation related to your injury. This will help to outline the scenario and prove the extent of your injury.
  2. Contact an experienced dental malpractice attorney to review your case and discuss the next steps. Your attorney can also work with the insurance companies, if needed, to make sure that they are receiving all of the correct information.
  3. Often, your attorney will also work with an expert who can review your medical records and determine if your dentist broke the standard duty of care.
  4. Next, it is common to send a demand letter to the dentist. This letter outlines all of the injuries that you have suffered, shows evidence of the breach of care, and summarizes the compensation that you are requesting. The dentist can opt to settle and pay or move forward to civil litigation.

Illinois Medical Malpractice Caps on Damages

A patient can seek relief for both economic (special) and non-economic (general) damages.

Economic damages include:

  • Past and future medical expenses (doctor and hospital bills)
  • Loss of past and future wages
  • Cost of domestic services
  • Cost of rehabilitation or physical therapy
  • Cost of home aid devices

Noneconomic damages include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of society and companionship
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

Prior to 2010, Illinois had a cap on the noneconomic damages that a person could recover. A claimant could only recover a maximum of $500,000 million against a healthcare professional and $1 million against a healthcare facility or hospital. However, this cap has been lifted since the Illinois Supreme Court ruled this law as being unconstitutional.

Common Instances of Dental Malpractice

Dental injuries and accidents are common. While not as common as medical malpractice and errors, the fact remains that dental professionals cause injuries or deaths annually too.

Dental Extractions

Dental extractions are complicated and dangerous procedures. They involve the dentist removing a tooth whether it is due to infection, compaction, or another medical reason. With these extractions, injuries can include:

  • Infection
  • Severed Nerve
  • Sinus Perforation
  • Bur Fracture
  • Mandibular Fractures

Endodontic Procedures

Endodontists are professionals who perform oral surgical procedures, such as root canals and specialty procedures handling infections and diseases of the teeth and tissues.

These specialized procedures have associated risks, and while those risks are not necessarily malpractice, injuries can occur if the endodontist is not careful.

Some common injuries that occur from these procedures include:

  • Infection – Including brain abscesses, osteomyelitis, and other life-threatening infections
  • Broken Instruments in the Canal
  • Sinus Perforations
  • Air Embolisms
  • Nerve Damage

Dental Implants and Injuries

Dental implants are designed to restore a patient’s smile, replace missing teeth, and offer permanent solutions for those who do not want dentures. However, they are complicated procedures – much more complex than patients might realize.

While complications exist with this type of procedure, there are also injuries that might occur, including:

  • Postoperative infections of the jaw bone
  • Implants placed on nerves
  • Unrestorable implants due to bone degeneration
  • Implant loss
  • Fractured jaws

These injuries are more common with regular dentists performing the procedures than periodontists (dental professionals with additional training).

Crown and Bridge Treatments

Crowns and bridges are used to fill in gaps of missing teeth or teeth lost due to injury and infection. Injuries are not as common with this procedure, but when a dentist is negligent, a patient can suffer costly repairs and injuries, including:

  • Damage to existing teeth
  • Poor occlusion
  • Open margins
  • Overhanging restorations
  • Full mouth reconstructions

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is a serious infection of the gums and underlying tissues. A dentist should catch this disease early before it has a chance to progress. If the patient continues with frequent check-ups and screenings, their dentist will detect periodontal disease during an annual checkup.

Common injuries and cases associated with this disease include:

  • Failure to diagnose
  • Failure to treat

If the dentist rarely probes for the disease or never takes routine x-rays, it is likely they will miss the periodontal disease and fail to address it – which could result in a severe infection or complete tooth loss.

Negligence in Orthodontics

Orthodontic treatments typically include braces and re-alignments of the teeth. Sometimes these injuries can result in tooth loss, root damage, nerve damage, unnecessary pain, and TMJ injuries.

Orthodontic procedures are costly; therefore, when an orthodontist is negligent, patients experience excessive out-of-pocket costs that may be unnecessary.

Dental Anesthesia and Complications

Extensive dental procedures or procedures on young children can lead to complications and injuries. When the dentist fails to inform patients, receive consent, monitor the patient under anesthesia, or review the patient’s history for possible interactions, serious injuries occur.

Common injuries include:

  • Hypoxic brain injury
  • Respiratory issues
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Death

Dental Infections

The mouth is full of bacteria, and when a dental office does not properly sterilize or take measures to prevent infection, severe injuries can occur. Infections can be life-threatening and lead to deadly brain abscesses. They can also lead to sepsis, a fatal infection that causes the body’s organs to fail slowly.

Dental Injections and Injuries

Injections are often used to numb the area so that the patient does not feel pain while receiving routine and extensive dental work.

Injuries can occur when injections are done improperly, including permanent nerve damage. While dentists might know they struck a nerve with their injection, if they do not withdraw and reinfect elsewhere, permanent injury might occur. Also, the dentist should follow up with the patient, seek treatment, and refer them to specialists if needed.

Adverse Drug Reactions

Several medications might be used in dental procedures. When a drug reaction occurs, it is typically a drug contraindicated on the patient’s medical history. These can result in fatalities, especially if dangerous interactions occur.

Failure to Diagnose Oral Cancers

Oral cancers are tragic. Sadly, a dentist who fails to diagnose or misdiagnosis oral cancer may be negligent. If the oral cancer was easily identified, but the dental professional missed the early warning signs, and another dentist would have easily diagnosed it, then that dental professional may be liable.

TMJ or Other Orthognathic Injuries

TMJ surgeries are typically corrective in nature, but if done improperly, they can lead to serious, debilitating injuries. Some patients may be unable to open their mouths, chew, or function. Typically, these injuries occur under the care of an oral surgeon.

Legal Remedies with Dental Injuries Occur

When a dentist injures a patient, the patient has several legal remedies at his or her disposal.  These solutions include:

  • Filing an official complaint with the state dental board. All patients should submit a complaint to the state dental board. The complaint forces the board to investigate the injury and incident. If the investigation determines the dental professional was negligent, they may receive a citation. Serious injuries or malpractice could result in a revocation of their license.

Filing a dental malpractice lawsuit. Medical malpractice attorneys handle dental lawsuits. These are not cases that a victim can handle alone. Instead, an attorney is required to conduct depositions, subpoena records, and conduct a thorough investigation.

Filing a Dental Malpractice Claim or Lawsuit

If you are eligible to file a dental malpractice claim or lawsuit, your lawyer can obtain the necessary records, bills, and other documents, and submit them to the provider’s malpractice carrier. In most instances, it is extremely difficult to convince a carrier to accept liability for alleged dental malpractice, and many carriers will do everything they can not to. Therefore, your lawyer may need to retain a dental expert who can testify in support of your version of events.

If the carrier eventually accepts liability for the alleged malpractice, your lawyer can begin settlement negotiations. In most instances, early settlement offers from insurance companies are extremely low, and far less than the actual claim value. Insurance companies make initial low offers to see if malpractice victims are in a hurry to settle. After all, most insurance companies want to be done with malpractice cases for as quickly and cheaply as possible.

Our experienced legal team can negotiate with the settlement adjuster on your behalf and work to pursue the maximum amount of compensation available. If the insurance company will not offer you reasonable compensation to settle your dental malpractice claim, we could file a lawsuit in the court system on your behalf, and continue our settlement negotiations. If necessary, we can litigate your case through the system and take your case to a civil jury trial or binding arbitration proceeding.

At a civil jury trial, the jury determines what if any damages to award you for your dental injuries, pain, and suffering. However, at a binding arbitration hearing, the parties submit their case to a neutral, third-party arbitrator who listens to the evidence and decides the issue of damages in the case. Our legal team can help you make the best possible decision to recover the highest amount of monetary compensation.

Consult with a Chicago Malpractice Attorney Today

If your injuries are severe, then it might be in your best interest to speak with a malpractice lawyer.

Our malpractice attorneys will then help determine how much your case is worth. We will aggressively seek out the compensation you deserve, and hold the negligent dentist accountable for his or her actions. Furthermore, your lawsuit may prevent others from suffering similar injuries – forcing the dentist to be more aware of how their actions affect their patients. Schedule a consultation with an attorney from Malman Law today by calling or contacting us online.

Steve Malman

Malman Law’s founder Attorney Steven Malman has over 30 years of experience handling personal injury, nursing home, medical malpractice, truck accidents, car accidents, premises liability, construction, and workers’ compensation cases in Chicago, IL.

Years of experience: +30 years
Justia Profile: Steve Malman
Illinois Registration Status: Active and authorized to practice law—Last Registered Year: 2024

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by President and Founder, Steven J. Malman who has more than 20 years of legal experience as a personal injury attorney.

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